By George J. Marlin
Every New Yorker is enduring the social, economic and fiscal consequences of the government-ordered shutdown.
The hardest hit—seniors.
Some 80 percent of the victims of the coronavirus have been over the age of 60. And 5,500 have died in New York nursing homes thanks to stupid decisions by the governor and his Health Department officials.
In recent years, I have come to learn a lot about nursing home facilities. In March, hours after the lockdown began, my 90-year-old mother died in a nursing home—but not of the virus.
The last time I saw my 93-year-old father in that same nursing home was when I told him his wife of 70 years had passed away.
Thankfully, as I’m writing this essay, he is in good health.
Anyone who has visited loved ones in a nursing home, as I have, quickly learns that even a mild head cold can spread quickly from resident to resident.
So, in this pandemic, for the governor to order on March 25 that senior residences must accept elderly who were COVID-positive was maddening.
The fact that Gov. Cuomo refuses to take responsibility for his actions compounds his negligence.
Heads should roll in the state Health Department and hopefully voters will remember Cuomo’s screw-up and punish him at the ballot box if he seeks a fourth term in 2022.
As for the economic impact: 36 million people have applied for unemployment benefits and 23 percent of those lucky enough to have a job have taken pay cuts.
In New York, jobless filings have hit 1.9 million. E.J. McMahon, of the Empire Center for Public Policy, has determined that the claims “represent about 21 percent of the state workforce.” He added, “This is well beyond anything we’ve seen before.”
Compared to a year ago, unemployment claims on Long Island have jumped 1,535 percent.
In households where total income is under $40,000, unemployment is at 40 percent.
In April, retail sales were down 16.4%. The largest monthly drop in recorded history.
Since February sales in clothing stores have been down 89 percent; in electronic and appliance stores, down 65 percent; and food services and drinking establishment sales, down 50 percent.
To get out of the house last week, my wife and I drove out to Port Jefferson in Suffolk County. This popular destination spot was a ghost town.
It struck me that many of those closed shops will probably never reopen. The Long Island retail store vacancy rate, which was about 18 percent before the pandemic, will soar even higher.
This means many working-class folks who were laid off will not return to work. In addition, owners of commercial real estate with no income will default on mortgage payments.
Foreclosures will drive down real estate values, which, in turn, means property tax revenues will decline.
And fewer shops mean less sales tax revenue.
State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has reported that in April local sales tax collections, statewide dropped 24.4 percent vs. April 2019. In Nassau County, there was a 26.1 percent decline of $24 million.
What does this fiscal crisis mean to taxpayers? First and foremost, Nassau residents will probably be burdened with paying off a lot more county debt. A provision buried in Cuomo’s state budget permits the Nassau Interim Finance Authority to issue hundreds of millions of bonded debt to fund the county government’s operating deficit.
Property taxes could also go up.
But what about government layoffs before sticking it to civilians?
Too many elected officials are saying they will have to cut essential services—cops, firemen, first responders—if there is not an infusion of cash from the feds, the state or from taxpayers.
This practice, Bob McManus of The Manhattan Institute has observed, “gives cover to politicians eager to move on to the next step—the protection of entrenched interests by expressing deep dismay, and then raising taxes.”
Yes, before picking the pockets of the general public, political hacks buried in the bureaucracies of local governments should be canned.
And as McManus also suggested, to make ends meet, how about bringing “public employee fringe benefit costs in line with the public sector” or reducing spending to “cost-of-living adjusted national norms” or reducing public pension benefits and corraling Medicaid costs?
As so many people are struggling to hang on, there should be no protected political class. Simple fairness demands a level playing field.